(The following article originally appeared in the July 7, 1993 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly, Downtown.)
The son of Ohio Democratic Congressional Representative George Cooper—Ken Cooper—was A.P.’s general manager and executive director for much of the first half of the 20th Century. In his 1959 autobiography, Kent Cooper And The Associated Press, A.P.’s former executive director also referred to A.P.’s special influence by observing that “there is no other organization on earth whose product touches the daily lives of so many people as does that of the Associated Press” and that A.P. news was being distributed by “several thousand newspapers, radio and television stations” by the late 1950s.
By the 1980s, The International News Services by Jonathan Fenby estimated that “1500 newspapers and 5700 broadcasting stations” distributed A.P. news in the United States and about 8850 foreign media organizations also were the recipients of A.P.-provided news. The same book also noted that “The A.P.’s radio and television members get two services: a special news wire edited and written for broadcasters and an audio service of voice reports and sound recordings.” In 1988, Introduction To Mass Communications also revealed that “The Associated Press…collects and distributes news in 108 countries” and “more than 1500 news staff members serve A.P. around the world in 222 news bureaus.”
In 1991, the World Book Encyclopedia estimated that A.P. was collecting and distributing news in six languages to media outlets in 115 countries. To supply A.P. news rapidly to its affiliated newspapers and broadcasters, A.P. “uses an extensive network of leased satellite circuits, submarine cables and radio transmissions,” according to The World News Prism by William Hachten.
One reason why A.P. doesn’t often send news that is too critical of either Big Media institutions or the people who own Big Media outlets over its wires is that A.P. is controlled by Big Media owners—not by A.P. employees, newspaper readers, radio listeners or TV viewers. A.P.-affiliated newspaper owners and broadcasters in the U.S. elect a board of 18 directors from among Big Media owners and this A.P. board of directors appoints A.P.’s chief executives. In 1937, Fortune magazine also noted that “in corporate matters—the allotment of assessments, the hours that members shall be allowed to publish editions containing A.P. news, the quarrels between members—the board’s decision is final” and “It acts as both judge and jury.”
The A.P. board of directors “has summary authority to cut off the news report, or recommend expulsion, or impose fines” on A.P. members and “In past years the board’s fines have totaled as much as $2,000 at a single meeting, ranging from $10 to $15 against small papers and up to $1,000 against the rich ones,” according to Fortune. The same magazine also revealed that by 1937 “at least half of the A.P.’s membership has thus been disciplined at one time or another.”
Fortune described how A.P.’s board of directors functioned in the 1930s:
“The Directors meet in a paneled room on the seventh floor of the A.P. headquarters in New York City, soundproofed from the quarter of an acre of chattering printers on the floor below. Eighteen chairs are ranged around three sides of a long rectangular oak table and in front of each is a heavy brass ash tray. Nine months a year the chairs stand empty; but for two or three days in January, April and October they are occupied by the directors—the most imposing group of men in U.S. journalism…No cabinet or council anywhere sits with more gravity or with a deeper consciousness of authority.”
In the early 20th Century, a researcher named Kittle “made a study of the members of the A.P.’s board of directors and found that 14 of them were `conservative or ultra-conservative’” publishers whose papers were “huge commercial ventures, connected by advertising and in other ways with banks, trusts, companies, railways and city utility companies, department stores and manufacturing enterprises” and which “reflect the system which supports them,” according to The Brass Check by Upton Sinclair. And in his 1959 autobiography, former A.P. executive director Kent Cooper wrote that “some newspapers are indeed owned by copper mining companies, by railroad companies, newsprint and a wide variety of other manufacturers, by bankers, politicians, oil companies, church organizations and men of great wealth who have wanted to own newspapers to satisfy their ego or just for the fun of it” and “such diversified interests are joined into one group under the name of The Associated Press.”
Among the Big Media owners who sat on the A.P. board of directors together during the first half of the 20th Century were the publishers of the supposedly competing New York Times, Atlanta Constitution, Washington Star, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Bulletin, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Spokane Spokesman, Minneapolis Tribune, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Chicago Tribune, and Des Moines Register & Tribune. (end of part 2)
Next: The A.P. News Trust’s Special Influence: A 1990s Look At The Associated Press—Part 3